What’s A Moderate to Do?

February 9th, 2016

The Church of England and its Anglican offshoots traditionally have been held to present a via media. That is, a “middle way” between the extremes of Roman Catholicism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other.

One hears this phrase less often today, when some branches of our Anglican Communion are now decidedly liberal-Protestant and others are conservative-Anglo-Catholic, with very little room for compromise. As in American politics, there seem to be few old-fashioned “moderates” left in the field.

What then is the role for those of us who consider ourselves less extreme to play? Well, we can try to moderate between the factions, when we can get them to speak to each other. Or in our own thoughts and speech, we can try to lower the temperature of the debate.

I know–easier said than done. But what’s a moderate to do? —J. Douglas Ousley

Spiritual Pressure Cooker

February 5th, 2016

In a recent email, a parishioner referred to the church in New York City as a “spiritual pressure cooker.”

This is accurate on several levels. The workplace makes increasingly intense demands on people. The temptations for afterwork overindulgence are numerous. And there is little peer or social encouragement to seek religious nourishment for the soul.

To be viable, the church has to offer spiritual relief from the pressure. It will do no good to add to people’s guilt by making demands of them unless people can see how service to God is, as the Prayer Book says, “perfect freedom.” —J. Douglas Ousley

The Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church

January 22nd, 2016

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has issued a series of comments on the recent meeting of Anglican Primates (see my previous blog.)  The statement is worth reading in its entirety; Episcopalians will be interested in such remarks as the following:

“The meeting reached a point on Wednesday where we chose quite simply to decide on this point – do we walk together at a distance, or walk apart? And what happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations. It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’. As leaders of our Anglican Communion, and more importantly as Christians, we looked at each other across our deep and complex differences – and we recognised those we saw as those with whom we are called to journey in hope towards the truth and love of Jesus Christ. It was our unanimous decision to walk together and to take responsibility for making that work.

“We remain committed to being together, albeit we asked that TEC, while attending and playing a full part in our meetings and all discussions, will not represent the Anglican Communion to other churches and should not be involved in standing committees for a period of three years. During this time we also asked that they not vote on matters of doctrine or how we organise ourselves.”

I remain reassured that the sanctions can be followed without much trouble. I do hope the activists on the left wing of our church can restrain themselves at the 2018 General Convention from passing any resolutions that could be termed “a matter of doctrine.” And I would pray that for the sake of the whole church, we Americans could for the time being follow the advice of my first mentor in the church, Canon John Andrew: “Pray more, say less.”–J. Douglas Ousley

We Got Off Easy

January 19th, 2016

This is the first of what I imagine will be several posts about the recent decision of the Anglican Primates to prohibit members of the Episcopal Church from participating in international Christian and Anglican meetings for the next three years.

I will consider the many responses in another post. Now, I want to offer a few immediate reactions of my own.

  1. We knew some kind of censure was coming. While gay ordination and marriage have won remarkably wide acceptance in the United States, most of the rest of the world holds traditional views about marriage. We had been warned repeatedly by outspoken bishops from the booming Anglican churches in Africa, in particular.
  2. Our punishment is relatively mild. International meetings have few consequences. We are still part of the Anglican Communion, thank God.
  3. As a practical matter, parish links such as those between the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London will continue as before. In fact, they are more important now than ever.

In sum, we got off easy–but the battle for marriage and ordination equality is by no means over. —J. Douglas Ousley

(Your responses and opinions are welcome.)

50 Days

January 4th, 2016

There are some Church of England parishes that keep their Christmas decorations and creche in place until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. The thinking behind this custom is that just as we celebrate Easter with the Great Fifty Days between that feast and Pentecost, so Christmas merits its own 50-day observance.

That’s a nice thought this week as most of us return to the work grind after the holidays. At Incarnation, we will start taking the decorations down this week and will finish following the Sunday after the Epiphany (January 10), when we remember the Baptism of Jesus.

But whatever we do to observe the Incarnation of Christ, we can hardly be too grateful that God has come among us, full of grace and truth. —J. Douglas Ousley

No Room in the Guest Room

December 30th, 2015

In a recent book, Journey to the Manger, the British New Testament scholar Paula Gooder claims that the word translated as “inn” in the traditional Christmas story really meant a guest room in someone’s house. “Inns” were only found out on the highways, where travelers needed to stop for the night.

So Luke seems to have envisioned Joseph and Mary being put up in a typical Bethlehem house–beneficiaries of the traditional hospitality for which the Middle East has been famous. There would have been no room on the upper level of the house where the family slept, so the visitors had to stay on the lower floor, which is also where the family’s domestic animals resided.

In fact, as Gooder points out, this revision of the story actually makes a better theological point than the familiar version. For Gooder, Jesus received the hospitality of strangers; and he received it not in an ancient version of a Holiday Inn but in someone’s own home, under the same roof of the local family’s house. All the more encouragement for us to offer hospitality to the stranger. —J. Douglas Ousley

New Signs of Incarnation on 35th Street

December 19th, 2015

In the pre-Christmas rush, it’s easy to overlook events that aren’t directly related to the holiday. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the uptick in attendance at some of our groups, and at the number of new people showing up repeatedly at services and events.

Particularly gratifying have been some very generous gifts to our outreach ministries from people who have given little or nothing in the past. We are so blessed at Incarnation–not only with the faithful who keep the doors open and the candles lit, but also with folks on the fringes of our parish who look to us for inspiration and who do what they can to support our work.

Happy Feast of the Incarnation! —J. Douglas Ousley

“Active Shooter Resources”

December 8th, 2015

“Active Shooter Resources” was an item in a PowerPoint presentation at a conference I attended yesterday at NYPD Headquarters, One Police Plaza.

The meeting was called by Commissioner William Bratton; participating were Clergy Liaisons and other religious leaders from the five boroughs. (I was invited because I am a Liaison for our 17th Precinct.) The huge auditorium was filled to the brim for this unprecedented “All-In” clergy gathering. Many speakers from the Police Department, including Commissioner Bratton, presented the many new initiatives and programs now underway. Mayor De Blasio closed the conference with assurances that he is dedicated to preserving the safety of New Yorkers.

I would categorize the conference’s concerns as mainly relating either to the racial divide between police and persons of color or to the dangers of terrorism. The NYPD is addressing the former issue by forming a “Community Partner Program.” Every officer in a given precinct, instead of being on duty in the area at-large will be assigned to a particular neighborhood. This change should help police to become more familiar with the residents of the area they serve.

Two disturbing videos dealt with the second issue of terrorism. One film told how to recognize a young person becoming radicalized (watch for changes in behavior); the other video showed what to do if an active shooter/terrorist enters your building (Run if possible, if not possible, Hide; if you can’t run or hide, Resist.) Clergy were urged to arrange to show these videos to their congregations.

All in all, I was happy that the police were trying to tackle the problem of racism in some policing. But I was sad to think that we religious leaders should actually be prepared to deal with active shooters. God help us all. —J. Douglas Ousley



The Light-Hearted Saint

November 30th, 2015

As Advent begins and Christmas approaches, it’s worth reminding ourselves yet again that “Santa Claus” is a folk version of a possibly-real folk Christian saint: St. Nicholas, who was known for his charity and his love of children.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves that while our Puritan founders didn’t allow Christmas to be celebrated because of its alleged frivolity, the frivolous aspects of the holiday–like visits to Santa Claus–are among the most joyous parts of the feast.

And it is a feast. The Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. A very serious holy day, true. But, at the same time, a feast to lighten the heaviest of hearts. Let us prepare our souls for the visit of the Light-Hearted Saint–and the Holy One for whom he stands. —J. Douglas Ousley

Is The Christian Century Christian?

November 23rd, 2015

I am a long-time subscriber to The Christian Century; I even published a couple of pieces in the magazine. For decades, it has been the leading chronicle of liberal Christian opinion. Some of the biggest names in mainline Protestant circles regularly write for the Century.

I won’t deny the possibility of prejudice on my part, but I find the journal increasingly aggravating. Its politics reflect without exception the left-wing of the U.S. Democratic Party. Its theology reflects the most recent victim ideologies of the day.

Even though many writers give nods to tradition, they invariably tend to go beyond what Christians used to believe in order to offer an improved version. The problem is, their version is always blowing in the PC wind, and it is always an attenuated rendition of the ancient Christian faith. The only explanation I can think of would be that the editors and writers are trying to impress their agnostic intellectual friends in secular political circles with their progressive views.

The long time editor (and former Democratic Congressman) John Buchanan is finally retiring. Perhaps his successor will be more independent and imaginative in his opinions. —J. Douglas Ousley